It’s 2AM, your 6 year old boy awakens, screaming of painful legs and wanting you to rub them to help the pain go away.
While you massage his legs, you look for any cause for his distress, there is no swelling, redness or heat. Nothing looks out of the ordinary. You administer some paracetomol or nurofen and he returns to sleep, with the pain settled within 30 minutes.
The next morning he is running about as if nothing occurred that night. The following week, he has a similar episode, causing you to worry about what might be causing these painful night time symptoms.
How Common are Night time leg pains?
The scenario described, is surprisingly common amongst young, active children. Night time leg pains most commonly affect children between the ages of 3 – 12 years.
A recent, large Australian study reported that night time leg pains affected 37% of children aged 4-6 years. Another study found that as many as 15% of school-age children have episodic leg pain.
These night time leg pains are often referred to as ‘growing pains’ but often do not occur during the peak growing phases. Many children with this presentation, are hypermobile (i.e. overly flexible joints) and have flexible flat feet resulting in leg muscles having to work harder to provide joint stability during physical activity. These muscles become fatigued and the child will experience a pain similar to ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’ (or DOMS).
These symptoms are not associated with serious underlying disease and usually completely resolve by late childhood. However, frequent night time episodes may have a major impact on the child and the family’s daily routine, including daytime fatigue, absence from school, school performance, reduced physical activity and frequent use of pain relief medications.
Improving the child’s foot posture, balance and strength and providing a stable base of support with foot orthotics and appropriate footwear can have a significant and immediate impact on the frequency and intensity of these painful night time episodes.
If your child’s sleep is being affected by repeated episodes of leg pain, a visit to your Podiatrist will help your family return to a peaceful night sleep!
Prevalence of “growing pains” in young children. – PubMed
Growing pains. A clinical investigation of a school population. – PubMed